With the Solemnity of Pentecost this Sunday, we conclude the Season of Easter. What a journey it has been! We went through the 50 days of Easter reading of the various accounts of Jesus’ appearances after rising from the dead, and read of his Ascension last week. This week, we actually come back to where we started – with the Sunday of the Lord’s resurrection as John notes, “It was evening on the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week.” (Jn 20:19)
Why does the Gospel read today sound so familiar? Didn’t we just hear this Gospel some time this Easter? Your assumptions are correct. The Gospel today is John 20 verse 19-23 and we heard this portion of the Gospel in its longer form this past Second Sunday of Easter where we read the Gospel of Doubting Thomas which goes up to verse 31. It is interesting that even though this comes from the same Gospel from the Second Sunday of Easter, the emphasis of what is in that Gospel is completely different. That week, we focused more on the figure of Thomas. This week, without the latter portion of Thomas, we focus on the ten disciples that were locked in the room.
In order to understand this Gospel week, we need to understand the events of Easter Sunday: Jesus rises from the dead, Peter and John head out to see an empty tomb (cf. Jn 20:1-9), Jesus sees Mary Magdalene at the tomb weeping and tells her to go tell the disciples of the resurrection (cf. Jn 20:11-18). Then, on that same day comes the events on the road to Emmaus which we heard on the Third Sunday of Easter (cf. Lk 24:13-35). The thing in common in the two appearances listed is that Jesus told these disciples to go and tell “my brothers” (Jn 20:17) – the disciples. The appearance in today’s Gospel takes place in the evening of the Resurrection. However, it seems like some of the disciples, even when told twice: once by Mary Magdalene and another time by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus of the Lord’s resurrection. It seemed that some believed after Jesus’ appearance to them, but as Matthew’s Gospel last week recorded, even up until the ascension, the disciples “worship him; but some doubted.” (Mt 28:17)
The followers of Jesus needed some assurance. “They rejoiced when they saw the Lord,” (Jn 20:20) but that was only after Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Know that these “scaredy cats” had fear of the Jews (cf. Jn 20:19), and some were fearful to the point that they even thought he was a ghost in Luke’s account (cf. Lk 24:37). Yet, even after meeting the Lord, some continued to be fearful and have doubts – including the days leading to the story of Pentecost that we hear in today’s first reading. However, Jesus did not leave them in that fear. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:22b) He promised them peace, and that peace and courage that comes with it comes from the Holy Spirit. That promise was to be brought into completion with the events of Pentecost.
See the change in one, when they encounter the Risen Lord, listen to the Father and open to the Holy Spirit – the disciples of Jesus who were once these “scaredy cats” to what I would say to an extreme extent… not like a fear of spiders or heights. They were scared to the point that they had to lock their doors and thought Jesus was a ghost – as if their lives were a living nightmare. However, after receiving the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire, these once “scaredy cats” were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.” (Acts 2:4) These once tight-lipped men, were now filled with the Spirit and used their newly given gifts to proclaim the Gospel. Peter, who once denied our Lord, in the latter part after the first reading today boldly professes the apostles’ gifts of the Spirit. Not only so, he wants to share that gift to all, as he says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) and on that first day, “three thousand persons were added.” (Acts 2:41) Peter, like so many of his brothers courageously proclaimed the Gospel, even when threatened with torture and ultimately death where he was crucified in Rome. Similar stories about the rest of the apostles are scattered throughout the Acts of the Apostles.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church and conclude the Season of Easter, let us be reminded of our mission as witnesses of the Good News. While we certainly face many challenges in our mission of evangelization, we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. We cannot let our ego take the lead but instead, let the Holy Spirit lead the way. When we let out fears, our egos, our selfishness take over us, the Holy Spirit cannot work in us and the Church becomes divisive. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1Cor 12:13) Let us open our ears to the voice of the Spirit, and our hearts to the gifts of the Spirit, so that in the Spirit, we will continue to heal the wounds of our brothers and sisters and truly let the Gospel – the One Truth of the Lord, crucified but risen, triumph by way of our very lives like the Apostles who were once “scaredy cats” but by opening themselves to the Holy Spirit, became heralds of the Gospel.